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“I quit my dreaming the moment that I found you / I started dancing just to be around you,” Angel Olsen slowly lays out the first lines to “Unfucktheworld.” It is the first track on her latest record, Burn Your Fire For No Witness. Olsen moves in her usual, slow, folky ballad with a slightly sentimental echo over her single guitar strumming. She lulls into a repeat chorus, “I am the only one now / I am the only one now / I am the only one now,” and the song fades away. The album opener is remarkable in its simplicity, beautiful in subtlety, and incredibly characteristic of Olsen’s beloved style.
But just as you are ready to seep deep into this album, sleepily enchanted by Olsen’s understated melodies, bestselling “Forgiven/Forgotten” wakes you up. It pulls you out of your daydream, and instead into the dirt fuzz punkish guitar and drums that open the track. While she may be singing about unrequited heartbreak, “If there’s one thing I fear / It’s knowing you’re around / So close but not here,” Olsen’s sound is far from that of a woman scorned. Her vocals operate among the electrics as a perpetual churn, holding their own in confident verses that are equally dynamic whether whispered or screamed.
Burn Your Fire For No Witness was released with Jagjaguwar Records on February 18th. It follows 2010’s Strange Cacti and 2012’s Half Way Home, as well as multiple tours on guitar with Bonnie Prince Billy, which together cement the foundation for Olsen’s aerated acoustic sound. While new Burn Your Fire For No Witness is certainly a step in a different musical direction, it unrelentingly builds upon Olsen’s previous work, and refuses to forget it. Songs like “White Fire” and “Windows” could act as a semi-poppy-still-ethereal portal between old and newer Olsen if a fan were feeling a little bewildered by new material. “Enemy” and “Unfucktheworld” could take them right back to her hushed beginnings.
“Hi-Five,” the album’s third track, highlights Olsen’s strength as an artist and songwriter. In the song’s music video, Olsen is dancing with herself. She shuffles about an empty, colorfully lit backstage scene in a glittered sweater and low-heeled mary janes. For the song’s first full minute, Olsen sings in a sideways, half-glazed daze. Another minute passes, and she asks “Are you lonely too? / Are you lonely too?” sprawled on a couch, twirling some string. The camera shifts, and Olsen is pictured upright with her palm facing the screen: “Hi-five / So am I.”
With her tantalizingly untouchable, delicate talent, Olsen has been long admired for being a kind of hushed, feminine folk character. But on No Witness, Olsen grows into something much more than that. Empowered and newly in-your-face, Olsen is independent, passionate, and impossible to ignore.